Almost 15% of Irish adults have been raped while more than a third have experienced some kind of sexual violence or harassment, according to major new research being launched on Wednesday.
The study shows women are more likely than men to be targeted – half of women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, compared to a fifth of men. Similarly, while one-in-five women experience a sexual assault, the figure for men is closer to one-in-10.
The study also outlines a pattern of abuse, finding that people sexually assaulted by a parent or guardian are at an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault carried out by someone else at some other stage in their lives, and that there is an increased risk of trauma and mental health issues for those affected by sexual harassment and violence.
The findings are contained in research carried out by Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, which has been accepted for publication in the international. It is the first study on the prevalence of sexual violence here since the landmark ‘Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland’ (SAVI) report was published in 2002.
A nationally representative sample of 1,020 Irish adults completed self-report measures of history of sexual violence and mental health. The findings are stark and it concludes:
"All forms of sexual violence were associated with an increased likelihood of serious mental health problems, with sexual assault by a parent/guardian associated with several other psychosocial outcomes in life, including education achievement, history of being taken into state care, salary, and employment status."
It says additional resources to increase mental health care among survivors of sexual violence are urgently needed.
According to the research: "Women were significantly more likely than men to have experienced all forms of sexual violence, with the exception of sexual assault by a parent or guardian."
It also finds:
- 4.6% of people were sexually assaulted by a parent/guardian across the lifespan, mostly during childhood or adolescence;
- 13.8% of people were sexually assaulted by someone other than a parent or guardian, mostly during adolescence and adulthood;
- 14.8% of people experienced sexual assault from either a parent/guardian or a non-parent/guardian;
- 31.1% experienced sexual harassment across their lifespan;
- 34.4% of people experienced some form of sexual violence.
Across all age groups, women were more likely to experience sexual harassment or violence.
"During childhood, women were significantly more likely to have been sexually assaulted by anyone, sexually harassed, and to have experienced any form of sexual violence," it said.
"Finally, during adulthood, women were significantly more likely to have experienced all forms of sexual violence, with the exception of sexual assault by a parent or guardian."
It said the "co-occurrence" of different forms of sexual violence is high, particularly for those who have been raped.
As for the mental health impact, depression was prevalent among those in the sample who had experienced sexual violence, but PTSD and generalised anxiety also featured prominently and there was a heightened possibility of an actual diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime.
The authors also noted that progress in tackling sexual violence may have stalled, despite two decades having passed since the SAVI report.
"In our study, 49.0% of women and 19.0% of men reported being sexually assaulted or harassed," it said. "It would seem, therefore, that in the intervening two decades, the proportion of women in Ireland who have experienced sexual violence may have increased slightly while the proportion of men who have experienced sexual violence may have decreased slightly. Whether this trend is due to changes in the occurrence of sexual violence, or a greater willingness to report such experiences, potentially facilitated by recent high-profile movements such as 'Me Too', however, remains unclear."